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Monroe County, Florida, Comes To Washington

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Ros-Lehtinen) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Madam Speaker, this week, a delegation of Monroe County elected officials, led by Mayor George Neugent, will be traveling here to Washington, D.C. In addition to meeting with Members of Congress, the Monroe County delegation will also meet with senior officials at FEMA on the issue of downstairs enclosures.

I have met with middle class homeowners in the Keys who are unable to secure flood insurance because of their downstairs enclosures. These homeowners utilize this additional living space to house an elderly resident, a family member, or to provide affordable housing to others. No one can afford to be without flood insurance in the Florida Keys. And since an inspection is required before any current flood insurance policy can be renewed, many residents are being left to fend for themselves.

While the issue of downstairs enclosures is certainly an important one, the state of our economy is the single most important issue for Keys residents. In recent months, I have had the opportunity to travel throughout the Keys to hear firsthand from teachers, from students, from entrepreneurs, retirees who are struggling because of uncertain economic conditions and a dwindling tourist economy. I have met with commercial fishermen in Key Largo who are abandoning their boats and leaving their lifetime passion in pursuit of part-time jobs that will at least pay the bills. Many of these fishermen are unable to make a living because of onerous fishing regulations and unfair moratoriums. I have met with small business owners in Key West who are closing down shop because of their inability to secure a bank loan which would at least carry them forward until next year.

The economic success of our community rests on the success of our fishermen and our hotel owners as well as on the environmental preservation of our beaches, our coral reefs, and other precious ecosystems. As a Member of Congress who proudly represents the Florida Keys, I have consistently fought for increased Federal action to protect our environment. For example, our Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is a world-renowned institution, and we have beautiful coral reefs that are a major economic engine for our local economy.

Last month, the House of Representatives passed the Coral Reef Conservation Act, a bill that I cosponsored. This bill increases Federal oversight of coral reef monitoring and rehabilitation efforts as well as promoting community-based conservation initiatives.

In addition to conservation efforts, I am working with my colleagues here in Congress to support the Aquarius Underwater Sea Lab, which is based in Key Largo. Aquarius is the only permanent underwater lab in the world, and its facilities are used in partnership with NASA and the Navy to train astronauts, divers, and to develop cutting-edge technology. I have been in contact with officials at NOAA to voice my strong support for the continuation of this important program, Aquarius, which is of great benefit to the scientific community and to our local economy.

During this time of economic uncertainty and volatile gas prices, it is more important now than ever that we reduce our dependency on foreign oil. The foundation of a comprehensive energy policy depends upon our ability to develop alternative sources of energy.

In Congress, I have been a consistent advocate of green energy initiatives. I voted to raise national fuel economy standards for our automobiles and establish a Federal renewable electricity standard. I have also voted to increase tax incentives for small businesses that utilize energy-efficient technologies in the workplace, such as solar panels or hybrid cars.

The Florida Keys has the potential of becoming a major market for green tourism, both nationally and internationally. And of course in order to achieve this goal we need to improve both our transportation infrastructure as well as our wastewater infrastructure.

I am proud to say that I have been a leader in securing millions in Federal dollars for our roadways, our bus facilities, as well as for the Florida Keys Wastewater Project. Securing Federal funds for the Florida Keys Wastewater Project is a top priority of mine in Congress because we have to protect our National Marine Sanctuary from further environmental damage. In the past year, I have secured more than $25 million toward this project.

Later this week, the House of Representatives will vote on a Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which includes funding for a new emergency operation center which will serve all of Monroe County. I know that the need for Federal dollars is great, and I will

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